What started off as a fundraising quest to produce Unbranded The Film, turned into a Kickstarter campaign to save America’s Wild Horses. Four friends and recent college graduates from Texas A&M University rounded up a team of wild mustangs and took them on a 3,000 mile cross country journey, from Mexico to Canada, to raise the plight of the wild mustang. The memory-making horseback riding vacation is packed with gorgeous scenery, exhilarating trail riding and heart wrenching loss in this feature-length documentary movie.
I confess that I was already a fan of the Unbranded cowboys when they asked me to review their equestrian film. The social media savvy production crew, led by Ben Masters and Director & Cinematographer Phil Baribeau, took us cowgirls along on the ride via the Unbranded Facebook page, Instagram, Twitter and with regular blog post updates on the Westernhorseman.com website.
The 105 minute movie starts out with a kick – literally. The cowboys begin their border-to-border trail ride in Mexico where the unforgiving desert is thick with jumping cholla cactus. It’s in Arizona’s Sonoran desert of the Tortilla Mountains that one of the horses, Gills, has a run in with the cholla cactus. The horse bites a cactus, feels the wrath of the cactus and when owner Ben Thamer tries to remove the cholla segments, Gills clocks him with both hooves in the face. And so the drama on horseback begins.
Horseback riding in the American West
Yet there is beauty, as well, in this documentary film for horse lovers and travelers. The clean-shaven crew of Ben Masters, Ben Thamer, Jonny Fitzsimons, Thomas Glover and 16 formerly wild mustang horses work their way from Mexico’s border, through Arizona, Utah, Idaho, Wyoming and Montana before crossing the border into Canada five and a half months later.
Like a train wreck, I had to look away at times when the cowboys rode through the jaw dropping cliffs of the Grand Canyon and I cried when they lost Cricket on their journey, as I, too, lost Cricket, my first silver buckskin Quarter Horse that I owned in my youth.
The high-country of Glacier National Park is on my bucket list for a horseback riding vacation and I’ve had the pleasure of riding through Wyoming’s Gros Ventre Mountain Range with Sleeping Indian Outfitters and in Montana’s Yellowstone National Park.
“Backpackers look at their feet when they travel, driver’s look at the road, and tourists look through a camera,” said Ben Masters. “On a horse you’re elevated, not huffing and puffing, and traveling at the perfect speed to soak in the land you’re passing through. I believe that God gave horses to mankind to see His creation the way He intended, horseback.”
America’s wild horses
The film is also an attempt to educate movie-goers about America’s wild mustangs. Wild horse statistics are sprinkled through the movie like clumps of grain left on the trail in an attempt to lead a wayward horse back to the barn.
According to Unbranded the Film, Nevada is home to 60% of the wild horses in the United States. Did you know that wild horses can live 25 years in captivity in Bureau of Land Management owned holding pens? There are nearly 50,000 wild horses in pastures and holding pens that will live out their lives unused and in captivity. Legally, the Bureau of Land Management is mandated to maintain the Mustang population in the wild to 27,000 animals. This number has already been exceeded, possibly to 40,000, but the BLM cannot continue gathering horses because there is no place to put these horses.
In California, I had the opportunity to ride amongst wild mustangs at the Wild Horse Sanctuary. At the end of the Unbranded journey, Ben Masters auctioned off Luke, his paint Mustang for $25,000, with all of the proceeds going to the Mustang Heritage Foundation to promote mustang adoptions.
“The Mustang issue is an incredibly emotional debate,” says Ben Masters. “People connect with horses more so than any other animal, except possibly dogs. Lots of people allow emotion to overpower rational thinking, and they value the momentary happiness of an animal over the long term ecological health that the future of that animal depends on. Get educated, learn the issues, they’re your horses on your land.”
Unbranded the Film is available by Video on Demand (VOD) http://unbrandedthefilm.com/ There is also a hard cover and soft cover Unbranded book. For additional insider tips follow @Nancydbrown and @ridinghorseback on Twitter and @UnbrandedFilm
To learn more about Unbranded http://watch.unbrandedthefilm.com
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The marketing team of Unbranded supplied me with a screener link for movie review purposes. Unfortunately, I was not allowed to ride along on the donkey with the Unbranded cowboys.